Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Harewood on Afro-Caribbean prejudice

For many reasons, I dislike using the term "black" of people. In my opinion, it is only marginally better than "negro" or "darkie", both disapproved by the non-white community. However, the actor David Harewood used it throughout his thought-provoking programme on Sunday night so I suppose I had better follow suit.

Harewood put his case well. He got on well with his interviewees*, drawing more from them than a confrontational style would have done. For me, though, the stars of the show were Dr Faiza Shaheen and the graphic artist who put her dramatic statistics on the screen.

And those statistics were appalling. One knew that there was anti-black prejudice, but its extent was eye-opening. The odds against black children succeeding to the top job as compared with whites, even those who had not been to private school, were in double figures. Doors were shut at all levels. President Obama's big break came when he was elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Can one imagine a black Briton being in a position to accept such a post, let alone be offered it?

[Prejudice warning on] However, the programme skirted one or two issues. For instance, for all that screen productions in the USA and Canada provide more leading rĂ´les to black actors, one suspects in the real world that the statistics regarding opportunities are much the same. At least we should have been presented with the comparative figures. I would also have been interested in a comment on the fact that of the big three black achievers in public life in the States (Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Barack Obama), the two men were sons of British Commonwealth citizens, not Americans. Obviously we need to improve but flagellating ourselves does not help that improvement.

One key statistic stood out for me, and was not followed up. From an early age black children of Caribbean origin do worse than Black Africans and both do worse than non-blacks until they escape from the judgment of teachers. There is then a steep rise in achievements, but the Caribbeans never catch up. My guess is that most of the children of African origin come from professional families (lawyers, accountants or even civil servants) who entered the UK pre-EU immigration restrictions in order to better themselves. The West African states also have a tradition of civil structures below government level unlike the looser West Indian style so that African children learn discipline and how to "fit in" earlier. Most West Indians immigrated to fill manual or semi-skilled jobs and their expectation for their children was probably lower.

A more glaring omission was a comparison with children of Indian, Pakistani or Bengali parents, in particular those from the middle-classes expelled from East Africa. While it is hard to think of blacks who have made it outside the field of TV and sport, I would bet that more people could name TV presenters, journalists, MPs or even business leaders of sub-continental origin. No statistics at all, there.

So it is not just skin colour, nor even "African" features which are the major handicap, so much as lower expectations by black families and, even more, class prejudice. Unfortunately, the latter and racial bias feed into each other. [/Prejudice warning]

*I'm glad the producer left in the impromptu meeting with a beautiful Brummie cat in Harewood's old home street.

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